I mourned the day I had to give up assisting in the operating room, and suturing in our urgent care. I hated the fact that I had to time my medications so that my hands would not be shaking when I gave immunizations or dressed wounds. It infuriated me that the tremor would give me an air of nervousness when I was sure in my knowledge and skills. And it was extremely difficult to try and do what was best for my patients, to help them through their medical issues while trying to hide and manage my own symptoms. The Parkinson’s was slowly relentless. And it followed me into all aspects of my life – from caring for my young children to taking care of my home to my relationships with friends and family. A simple invitation to a social event entailed careful planning of the timing of my medications, and the energy expended to position my body to minimize any tremor or dyskinesia, was exhausting. Nonetheless I would pull my favorite Manolo Blahniks from the closet, wrestle them onto my feet and hope for the best.
And through the next decade the proverbial heels stayed on, more out of defiance, a refusal to accept what was happening to my body rather than courage or determination.
I was angry that at a time when life was so busy and exciting, I had to deal with this diagnosis. I became consumed the disability I was sure I was going to face. Would it put an end to my medical career? What about my plans to travel the world with my husband when we retired? Was I going to be there for my daughters as they journeyed through their life stages? And that’s where I stood for a very long time. On the brink of disaster. In fact I spent almost a decade in defiance and avoidance.
But then ultimately things changed. They had to change. I was growing tired of the stress, it worsened my symptoms and it was changing me as a person. Although no one could tell from my happy demeanor, I didn’t like the fact that I rarely laughed anymore that I was so intent on distracting myself with busyness that I was exhausting myself with constant activity.
Looking at the state of medical research, I was confident there would be a cure but when that would be was an unanswerable question. And so I was at a crossroads. My future for now included Parkinson’s but my life experience I began to realize would be very different depending on how I decided to face this challenge. It became very clear to me that in reality, I had been choosing to be internally fearful and pessimistic and I recognized that this approach wasn’t working. This realization came gradually. It wasn’t after one particular conversation or after something profound that I read; it was a natural evolution, a necessary change. I began to understand that although the diagnosis is simply not within my control, how I face this challenge is ultimately mine to determine, moving me from a position of helplessness to one of true power.
And so the years of inner turmoil and self-doubt came to an end (for now). When I look back, I recognize that life wasn’t really living when I was in that state of mind. This was and is a powerful life lesson, one that is applicable to all areas of my life - my ability to choose my response to pretty much any situation. And I choose not to let Parkinson’s define my life. It is what it is and as long as I can, I will thrive despite its limitations.
During my “off” periods, some may caution me about putting on a pair of heels, that they are sure I will end up on my knees. But I don’t plan on being on my knees anytime soon unless it’s to thank a higher power for lessons learned. I will, like the other strong, powerful women I’ve met, soldier on. Warriors in stilettos, fighting to get through each day, pushing forward into what we believe will ultimately be a better tomorrow.